The Evolutionary Challenge for Technology is the title of a paper that was handed to me by Alexander Laszlo at the EvolutionarySalon.

What I can do is tell you the ideas that I got out of it.

And I got a lot of ideas out of it. MetaphysicalCode was born from these ideas, for example.

The main thing I got out of it was a special language for talking about technology.

It includes:

These words refer to the degree of infrastructure and expertise required to manufacture the technology, given some situation. If you want to talk about a mid-point between them, you can call it Intermediate Technology.

Then there’s Alternative Tech. Alternative technology is one that’s not mainstream, but a viable alternative. Perhaps a guy with an organic garden, or something, in his back yard.

Then there’s the two techs I lump together:

And finally, my last two favorites:

I’m putting these in sections, because I want to use the LinkLanguage elsewhere on the wiki.


A “hard technology” is any technology that exists outside of the person.

So, for example, a computer is a hard technology. A robot is a hard technology. So is a blanket, for that matter, or a pencil. A password system is a hard technology. All these things exist, automatically, outside of the person. As such, they are hard technologies.

You may find it useful to read the page HardSecurity right around now. It appears to be no accident, that the terms are similar: The concepts of HardTechnology and SoftTechnology mirror the concepts of HardSecurity and SoftSecurity. I imagine that these terms have been used for some time, and we are ourselves only just, in these past handful of years, learning the discussion, and the language.

Note that, the way I explained Hard Technolog here- this isn’t how the “Evolutionary Challenge for Technology” paper explains it. The paper goes more towards physical machines, products of engineers working on things. It’s not so clear from the paper that HardTechnology would include software. The definition I am using, though, includes software as hard technology.


Soft Technology is a technology that exists inside people’s heads.

That’s my colloquial way of putting it, at any rate.

Here are examples of soft technologies:

These are all technologies, these are all real things, that you don’t just wake up one morning, and know how to do. The ideas here are invented, and communicated, and replicated. They are used, diagrammed, explained, reworked, blended, appropriated, all these various things, just like any other technology.

The principle thing about them, is that they exist in your head.

Aren’t these things just “skills” of a particular kind? Social skills (to the extent that the practice of mathematics always requires a scientific community to talk to and exchange ideas with), maybe. Organizational skills, sometimes.

Not OpenSpace or RobertsRules or card game rules.

Certainly some people are skilled at using Robert’s Rules to run a productive meeting. But perhaps “running a productive meeting” is the skill, and “Robert’s Rules” is the technology.

Let me draw an analogy between the skill of “running a productive meeting” and the skill of “building a table”.

While building a table, some skilled builders exclusively use a hammer and nails, others exclusively use screws and a screwdriver. There are minor variations of these technologies (human-powered screwdrivers, air-powered screwdrivers, battery-powered screwdrivers) and also very different woodworking joint alternatives (metal-free Chinese and Japanese and Shaker construction).

Likewise, when running a meeting, some skilled communicators exclusively use Robert’s rules, others exclusively use OpenSpaceTechnology. There are minor variations of these technologies (…) and also very different meeting alternatives (resolving disagreements by way of a duel; …).

Alas, while it is fairly quick and easy for even a novice to discover for himself that a claw hammer is better than ball peen hammer for putting nails in and taking them out, it’s much more difficult to compare the various ways of running a meeting.

I don’t know about, “What’s a skill? What’s a technology?” To be sure, we’re stretching the use of the word “technology.” Stretching “technology” this way may even have disastrous results – for example, economists have stretched “economics” to encompass just about everything in life, which has caused economics and “economic thinking” to transcend from “a tool to examine markets and money and commodity,” to a form of mythic religion. [1]

Still fishing for language.


“What is Technology?” then, someone may ask.

“I mean, I can understand that a robot is a technology. I can understand that a car is technology, or a computer. But I’m not so sure about pencils, much less a game of poker..!

Okay, that’s fair, you can define technology how you want.

But, the way I’m using it here, technology is from “technique.” (Is it startig to sound a little more human now?) A “technique” is a way of doing something, some method, presumably shorter than some other method. A skill, a slight of hand, a trick, a shortcut, a method, a way through the forest, a secret path.

We have a neat trick for getting people to work together, have fun, and enjoy each other’s company, we call it: “manners.” Another one is “poker.”

So if we are looking at things this way, asking: “What are the things that people do, and what are the things we can think about,” then we have things like science (discovery of the natural state of systems,) and we have technology (constructing systems.) And part of that science and technology happens in the social sphere, the space within people’s heads, and we can call it “soft science” and “soft technology.”

RobertsRulesOfOrder were, absolutely, an invention. They really are used. Companies really do use them. They are enshrined in business documents as “the rules we’re using.” They could have not been made, and things might have been different. There are consequences to using them, advantages, and disadvantages. Some things are possible using them, that aren’t possible without them. And you have to know it, to use it. It is “a thing,” despite just existing with our head.

I like the derivation from the word “technique”. I’m just worried that we’re carrying the word “technology” and “technological” in a direction that differs from the mainstream: Particularly when discussing patents, the term “technology” is very important, and in the last years, Europeans have used the term “technology” to differentiate ideas relating industrial processes (“technology”) from ideas relating to other processes (business models, software). They use the term as it is used in the MIT – an institute of technology.

Howabout this: by default, if someone says “technology”, we can continue to assume that they mean HardTechnology. Only if someone says SoftTechnology or “technology, including SoftTechnology” will we assume that they mean to include that. That way we don’t redefine the standard usage of the word “technology”.

One reason I like “Soft Technology,” is that it gives it a respectable space in our concept of what is “work” and what is “not work.”

Before, there’s like:

  • Art
  • Science
  • Technology

And if you’re sitting in circles singing “Kumbaya,” or doing OpenSpace, then you’re not doing (respectable) work.

By recognizing soft technology work as a technology, it gains some of the respect that is it’s due.

People expect to be able to do stuff with technology, that they couldn’t do before. Technology is developed and refined. There is research that goes into it, and so on.

And it is funded. People don’t go: “Oh, they’re just playing games,” those crazy people making computer chips. “They’re working. They’re making stuff that can do work for us.”

See? But the soft technologies can do work for us, they are replicable, there is innovation in that space, and so on. It can be difficult to test effectiveness, or the validity of statements. I think we’ll ultimately have to come up with some sort of way of testing the validity of the things that we discover.

BayleShanks made a very good, I think very solid, argument at the bottom of the OpenSpace page. But does it meet the standards of hard science? No, it does not. Clearly, this is some sort of “soft science.” There might be people who disagree with him, after all. We could conceivably find some strange individuals (by our culture) for whom his argument would make no sense at all. (Unlike hard science, which is objective, no matter where you go.)

Perhaps the soft sciences and soft technologies can hold foundation in DefeasibleReasoning?, contained within a framework that recognizes: “Yes, it is metaphysics. Yes, these patterns will unravel as TheTimes? change. Yes, it varies by culture. But within this culture, within this framework, within this realm, there is very strong integrity in what is present here.”

Compare with software: We all know that our programs that we run now will be unrunnable (or very difficult to run) in 20 years. I tried to play Warcraft II the other day, and had to puzzle how to trick my computer into thinking that there are IRQ ports.

And yet clearly, Warcraft II is a technology that functions, that works, that has internal and functional integrity.

I think it is soft engineering, not soft science. “Soft science” implies doing controlled experiments, or at least statistically rigorous studies. There are people who do soft science (management studies researchers at business school, for example; and sociologists), but we’re not among them.

Not to disparage it. I think engineering is as cool as science.

What this definition says is more or less that SoftTechnology is a Social Fact, What is a Social Fact?.

ZbigniewLukasiak, thank you for telling me about the term “social fact” – it does indeed seem to be nearly a synonym for SoftTechnology. A “soft technology” and a “social fact” both have to deal with things that exist inside people’s heads; and they both deal with things that are in a sense “arbitrary” – a baby brought up in a different culture will learn different social facts (and different soft technologies)

But I’m not sure “social fact” really captures what I think are some of the most interesting implications of the “soft technology” term: The implication that one can collect various “soft technology” mental “tools”, and learn to recognize for any given situation which tool is the most appropriate – being good at recognizing which tool is the most appropriate does not necessarily mean that one is skilled at using that tool, and vice versa. The implication that these things can be designed, the way various fasteners and their corresponding fastening tools have been designed, holding out hope that perhaps new versions of these things can be developed that are better in every way, saving us tremendous amounts of time and effort – getting the same quality results in less time and effort, or getting better quality results for the same time and effort, or both.

AlexSchroeder makes a good point. Perhaps the term “process” he mentioned would be more appropriate. So we have industrial processes (“technology”, such as fastening using nails or fastening using screwdrivers), business processes (such as overall business models, or details of how to run a franchise discussed in the Wiki:ThreeRingBinder), software processes (abstract algorithms such as quicksort; complete pieces of software like Apache), and ((insert term here)) processes (such as Robert’s Rules and OpenSpace).

You’re welcomed.

Frankly now that I think about it, I do see how the name SoftTechnology puts a spotlight on one aspect of the thing, but I think we should call it just SocialConvention? for the sake of communicating our ideas with the outside world.

Calling it “technology” probably does emphasize its similarity to machines and to devices that act utterly predictably and which do not involve human decisions nor work with the human mind or cognition at all, so SocialConvention? does seem better.

But even something like PoliticsAsUsual? can be construed as a SoftTechnology as can PeerPressure and other things that are two-edged swords. Recommended reading: PaulAdler? on SocialCapital. Especially “the good the bad and the ugly”.

A Note on the Types of Technologies

A brief note, just for clarification: These words, these “categories of technology,” or “types of technology” – these are descriptive terms, for describing some technology in some particular situation or environment. What is Hi-Tech in one environment may be Low-Tech in another, and vice versa.

This applies as well to Soft vs. Hard technology: Put Law and manners side by side, and the one is “Hard,” relying on external systems and automations, and the other is “Soft,” relying on the concepts the people are holding themselves in their heads. (This can get into the “are groups real or not” territory.)


See Also

Define external redirect: PoliticsAsUsual DefeasibleReasoning SocialConvention TheTimes PaulAdler

EditNearLinks: HardSecurity OpenSpaceTechnology